grunau im almtal

Grunau im Almtal: Beyond Austria’s Beaten Path

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What immediately springs to mind when you think of Austria?

The elegant and baroque capital city, Vienna? Mozart and Julie Andrews’s Salzburg? Tyrol’s “fun in the winter sun” capital, Innsbruck? Sipping wine and riding bikes in the Wachau valley? All amazing Austrian experiences. I mean, without a doubt, I fell in love with Vienna. However, this special corner of Austria was a little different.

I had the opportunity to wander away from the beaten path (argh, I hate that term, sorry) in Austria. Tourist trails are fun, sometimes; however exclusively stopping at the “famous” cities and towns never appealed to me. I mentioned in my Sisterhood of the World Nomination that I have a soft spot for authentic experiences – especially in Europe, which is overrun with organized groups and tour leaders with umbrellas.

On Busabout’s Hop-On Hop-Off network, I had a fantastic two night stay in Grunau im Almtal, away from the “Sound of Music” crowds.

Grünau im Almtal Austria is truly an amazing place. You return to nature and feel completely at peace. Trust me, it’s wonderful.

grunau im almtal


Don’t worry. I never heard of Grunau either until I researched my summer trip.

When booking with Busabout, I decided to visit all the optional stops instead of zipping from one end of Europe to the other.

I’m not a speedy traveler. I would rather immerse myself in a single region or country than check off a list of touristy sights. No shade to people who do the “go go go” thing, but whirlwind travel simply isn’t my style. It never was.

As it turned out, spending my travel time in Central Europe worked out great, because it meant I had time to spare in beautiful, less touristy gems like Grunau im Almtal.

grunau im almtal

Upon arrival at The Treehouse Backpacker Hostel, we were offered an affordable lasagna lunch, which was delicious and the size of my head. A lot of calories? Yeah, sure, but it was worth each cheesy bite.

Afterward I dumped my purple backpack in luggage storage and decided to take a walk to soak in the Austrian countryside. The road into town was quiet, only occasionally dominated by hardworking locals and European vacationers on bikes.

I’m not a bike rider. Seriously, I rode a mountain bike on the Aran Islands in Ireland, and the hills nearly murdered me.

Regardless I knew I had to experience this place on four wheels rather than two feet.

grunau im almtal

The next day, another traveler and I decided to go on a bike ride to Almsee.

Also known as Alm Lake, Almsee promised clear mountain waters and views of Austria’s peaks. My Europe-Obsessed Travel Brain had never heard of Almsee so I was hoping for a true local experience. Besides, if Western Canada taught me anything, it’s that I’m a sucker for crystal clear lakes and soaring mountains.

I brought my NOOK and quick-drying towel and large water bottle, expecting a simple and lazy ride. At this point, I had been traveling for more than four weeks and wanted an opportunity to unwind. I think I had sandy beaches firmly lodged into my head. Missing the Jersey Shore, perhaps?

But a “simple” ride? HA, YEAH RIGHT.

grunau im almtal

Grunau taught me that I need to get into better shape. I’m the stereotypical American when it comes to physical activity and it’s not cute.

The entire bike ride totaled 12 km (~7.4) one way, but was slightly up hill for most of the journey to Almsee. 12 km may not seem like a lot to you, but for me, it was a pretty intense bike ride, especially in the August heat.

My travel buddy and I occasionally stopped not only to look at the scenery, but to catch our ragged breath and gulp from our water bottles. I was relieved we were on similar fitness levels, but nonetheless, the zippy European bike riders put me to shame that afternoon, good grief.

However, the physical pain in my thighs was so. very. worth. it.

grunau im almtal

After taking a cat nap on a bench next to the lake, we wandered around the water’s perimeter and ogled at the spectacular mountains, reflected in Almsee’s crystal clear waters. There were no sandy beaches, but neither of us cared much. Who needs beaches when you have views of mother nature’s mightiness?

As I suspected, we didn’t encounter any gigantic bus tours. We came across hiking families and couples, all who said “hello” and seemed utterly pleased at their decisions to break away from their hectic lives and enjoy a slice of the countryside.

My decision to visit Grunau and Almsee was one of the best choices I made on my summer adventures. It’s challenging to summarize in words the effect beautiful landscapes has on me. I suspect it’s a unique experience for everyone.

As a person who struggles with her place in life, simply appreciating natural beauty reminds me that everything – no matter if the challenge is big or small – will eventually work out.

grunau im almtal

What are your FAVORITE small European towns? Why do you love them so much? Share your responses in the comments. As always, thanks for reading Blond Wayfarer. Remember to subscribe to my email list for more updates.

6 thoughts on “Grunau im Almtal: Beyond Austria’s Beaten Path

  1. Britt says:

    I love the idea of doing all the optional stops. I grew up in a small town so I have a quiet appreciation for them. I find stopping in places like this can give you some of the greatest travel experiences. You meet amazing people, see amazing things and most importantly- you aren’t going just where everyone else is going.

    • Rachel Elizabeth says:

      Absolutely! It’s nice to go to a place that’s not mobbed with tourists. You feel like you’re experiencing something special. Small, unique towns are some of the greatest places to visit! Thanks for visiting!

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  3. travelviking says:

    Thanks for telling about Grünau im Almtal. I was thinking of spending a few days there from Salzburg but am quickly losing interest. Not only will a round-trip take a time consuming six hours, the Treehouse hostel not being in Grünau itself and lake Alm 21 km away from the hostel mainly because you cannot take a shorter route through the mountains/forrest, thus 42 km in total (maybe that explains why the ride was so challenging to you)… this “best place” of Grünau doesn’t look much better than Morskie Oko. Your published photos 1,2,4,5 of your Grünau trip look a bit underwhelming, reminds me more of central Italy or Dalmatian Balkans rather than Austria(n Alps).

    • travelviking says:

      To let you know that instead of Grünau I went to the Mandlwand near Mühlbach am Hochkönig (also a hidden gem) and Mandling, which funnily enough is on the precise opposite side of the Dachstein rocky mountains, but fortunately I didn’t have to travel another 21km extra to see them. Thanks again, in this case your article was truly very helpful to convince me and go somewhere else (although I never know what I missed) ^^

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